There have been mixed reports of the benefits of drinking alcohol on the health of your heart. One of our world-leading cardiologists provides some clarification and advice.

Are there any health benefits to drinking alcohol?

Some past studies have suggested light or moderate drinking may benefit the health of your heart, particularly drinking red wine.

However, the latest evidence suggests that there is no safe amount of alcohol you can drink before it starts to harm your health and that the risk outweighs any benefits alcohol may have for your heart.

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to many health problems, including high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease and some forms of cancer, include breast cancer. So, you may need to consider how much you drink, particularly if you have an existing health problem.

How does alcohol affect my heart?

As drinking alcohol can increase your blood pressure, this can place a strain on your heart and result in cardiovascular disease (disease of your heart and blood vessels), increasing your risk of a heart attack or a stroke.

Regular excessive drinking can also lead to heart rhythm problems and a condition called cardiomyopathy, which can make it harder for your heart to pump blood around your body.

Binge drinking – having 4 or more drinks in 2 hours for women and 5 or more drinks for men – may also increase your risk of atrial fibrillation, a type of heart rhythm problem that can result in a stroke or heart failure.

How much alcohol can I safely drink?

“The less alcohol you drink the better – most authorities take the view that there is no safe limit,” explains our consultant cardiologist, Dr Jonathan Clague. “If you do choose to drink, do so in moderation – this is no more than 14 units of alcohol per week for both men and women.”

“It is also important not to binge drink, but to evenly spread out how much you drink over the course of a week. Having several alcohol-free days each week can also enable your body to recover.”

“If you are thinking of taking up drinking for health benefits to your heart, it is best not to. The antioxidants and flavonoids in red wine which may reduce your risk of heart disease can be found in many foods such as grapes and blueberries. A healthy diet and regular physical activity are the best way to protect your heart.”

Example of drinks with approximately 1 unit of alcohol:

Example of drinks with approximately 1 unit of alcohol

Example of drinks with approximately 1 unit of alcohol